The Anglo-American Conservative Tradition and Its Surprising Jewish Roots

In today’s political discourse, argue Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony, there is a tendency to conflate two distinct sets of ideas: a conservative tradition embraced perhaps most importantly by Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton and a liberal tradition, founded by John Locke and embraced by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. These competing traditions share key points in common: respect for individual liberty, belief in republican government, and hostility toward dictatorship. But they differ in their attitudes toward universalism, religion, and progress. Haivry and Hazony trace the conservative tradition from the 15th-century English political philosopher John Fortescue to the 19th century, and note the influence of Judaism on some of its most important exponents:

According to Fortescue, . . . the powers of the English king are limited by the traditional laws of the English nation, in the same way—as Fortescue emphasizes—that the powers of the Jewish king in the Mosaic constitution in Deuteronomy are limited by the traditional laws of the Israelite nation. . . . [But] the decisive chapter in the formation of modern Anglo-American conservatism . . . is dominated by the figure of John Selden (1584–1654), probably the greatest theorist of Anglo-American conservatism. . . .

Selden saw himself as an heir to Fortescue. . . . His own much more extensive theoretical defense of English national traditions appeared in the form of short historical treatises on English law, as well as in a series of massive works examining political theory and law in conversation with classical rabbinic Judaism. In these works, Selden sought to defend conservative traditions, including the English one, not only against [advocates of absolute monarchy], but also against the claims of a universalist rationalism, according to which men could simply consult their own reason, which was the same for everyone, to determine the best constitution for mankind. . . .

Selden recognizes that, in making . . . selections from the traditions of the past, we tacitly rely upon a higher criterion for selection, a natural law established by God, which prescribes “what is truly best” for mankind in the most elementary terms. In his Natural and National Law, Selden explains that this natural law has been discovered over long generations since the biblical times and has come down to us in various versions. Of these, the most reliable is that of the Talmud, which describes the seven laws of the children of Noah prohibiting murder, theft, sexual perversity, cruelty to beasts, idolatry and defaming God, and requiring courts of law to enforce justice. . . .

Nonetheless, Selden emphasizes that no nation can govern itself by directly appealing to such fundamental law. . . It is thus wise to respect the different laws found among nations, both those that appear right to us and those that appear mistaken, for different perspectives may each have something to contribute to our pursuit of the truth.

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Read more at American Affairs

More about: Conservatism, History & Ideas, John Locke, John Selden, Judaism, Political philosophy

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism